Focus on GDP Spells Insecure and Unsustainable Future

Cross-posted from Dateline Copenhagen.  Author: John Mulrow

Tropical storms continue to barrage the Philippines as they have done for nearly a month. Now it’sTyphoon Lupit on the way, headed yet again for the northern islands of the Philippines. TheInternational Rice Research Institute, based in Manila, has called the flooding currently underway in the country “once-in-a-lifetime.” While this is typically a rainy time for the islands, the intensity of this year’s storms is rarely seen.

Is this climate change rearing its head in the form of more intense storms, as predicted? IRRI admits that it may be unscientific to draw a direct correlation between carbon emissions and these storms right off the bat. However, the Institute has used the events, alongside India’s delayed monsoon season, and long-lasting drought conditions in Australia to draw attention to the affects all these weather events have had on rice – an extremely negative effect in all cases. Rice is by far one of the world’s most important subsistence crops, making up nearly 20% of your average human’s caloric intake (as high as 70% in Cambodia and Bangladesh). The ruined rice crops of 2009 are proving more than ever why climate insecurity equals food insecurity–which leads to political instability.

The Congressional Budget Office skirted over this fact last week when it testified to the Senate on the predicted effects of climate change on the United States’ GDP.  CBO Director Doug Elmendorf cited the fact that “most of the [US] economy involves activities that are not likely to be directly affected by changes in climate” as reason to be wary of passing climate legislation. Since the U.S. agriculture sector only makes up 3% of our GDP, effects on this industry receive little weight and the effects of climate change on other nations’ security receives even less. The costs of food insecurity and global instability simply do not make it into such hard and fast GDP calculations and contribute to the slow progress being made on a U.S. climate bill. The same could be said for a global climate deal as well.  Food security, both domestic and global, needs to be in the minds of our legislators and on the agenda in Copenhagen.

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